Revd Dr Colin Dundon
17 January 2016—Second Sunday after Epiphany
I love a good celebration. Good food, good wine, good company, laughter, noise, action, great smells.
And it is fitting that Jesus' first public act in John is as a guest at that most delightful of celebrations, a wedding. In the Gospel of John Jesus is present in the whole of human life: Birth, marriage death, and always something special happens when he is there. This Gospel begins with a feast and ends with another on a beach.
This passage was read at Epiphany in the ancient church, instead of the coming of the three magicians which we presently use. The reason is simple: it shows forth Jesus, reveals his glory. That references back to John 1.14
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
And it is to that that we now turn. How does the story do that? The purpose of the story
The first chapter of the Gospel of John is very much like a rich dessert. Once one of my grandsons ordered a chocolate mousse at a restaurant. It was magnificent. I know because he could not eat it. Neither could I, nor others in the family. It fed us all, with some left over.
The writer the Gospel begins with an extraordinary exposition of Jesus as the Word; an exposition that has inspired interpreters, theologians, writers until now. Then we learn that he is the Lamb of God, another evocative picture. But more, he is the Messiah, and the Son of God and the King of Israel.
Not only that but, at the end of chapter 1, to sum it all up, he tells Nathaniel that he will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending; heaven revealed. God opening up to us.
Now none of these images is without their ambiguities, the last four particularly. And those ambiguities are militaristic and political.
So how do we know what Jesus means by these titles and names? Those who ascribed them to him might have meant anything by them. But what did he mean by them? How does he wear them?
In modern speak it might be like hearing that Ms X has just been appointed your new CEO, managing director or COO. You know those titles and you yawn because you would like to know the answer to another question. How will Ms X behave? Will she be a bully? Can she make decisions? Will she have favourites? Is she a control freak?
We want to know how people will perform because that will tell us about their values and their pathologies.
And John, to help the reader get there centres his Gospel story on a series of Jesus's actions (he calls signs) and says "Read these". And he chooses the particular actions because he sees them paintings, full of layers of meaning.
Hence our story today. You want to know what all that means then read this for all you are worth with the imagination wide open.
The heart of the story is simple: the transformation of water into wine.
The setting of the story is simple and spare. A wedding, most of the town and surrounding villages there, a disaster: a catering malfunction that would serve to shame and humiliate the family for a long time to come.
Mary approaches him to help. Interesting in its own right that she would do so. He rebukes in words that seem harsh to us. Like all disciples she needs to learn a basic lesson; she does not know what goes on between the Father and the Son and cannot know what is going down.
He simply says, 'Watch what I am doing for I am going to take your request and you are going to see God's big picture in this small domestic drama. The tiny drama you want solved is going to mirror the big drama that God wants to solve.'
Six huge stone pots are found and filled with water; Stone to avoid any issues with the purification laws. No abracadabra; just 'Take it to the head wine taster.'
The head steward is just like us. No miracle for him. He loves the wine. And then he makes the obvious deduction. They were hiding this stuff from everyone. And no wonder. This is good, the best and there is plenty of it. He knew, just like we do, wine does not come from water. Ancient people were not credulous. That is just a modern confection that makes us feel good and superior.
So how does this reveal heaven? Heaven is about transformation
The most obvious thing about this story is that it is like a creation story, like the feeding of the five thousand will be. When heaven opens it transforms all it touches and always towards something richer, more beautiful.
Jesus will later say in this Gospel that he has come to bring fullness of life. This story is its symbol. The Word who creates (John1) continues to create richer, deeper and more beautiful things.
All of the names given to Jesus in Chapter 1, King, Messiah, Word, now have their focus; the creation of life. Unlike their political counterparts this One is for life.
Even the purification jars point this way. The old Judaisms will not be destroyed but filled up with something new and celebratory.
The old promises we read in Isaiah 62 about the vindication of Jerusalem and God dwelling with her now find new meaning. God is coming back to his temple to renew it like water into wine.
The beautiful Psalm (36) we read/sung talks of drinking at the river of God's delights, finding the fountain of life and seeing the light of light. The water is transformed into wine and the heavens reveal their true purpose: the fountain of life is here, the light we seek is here, the fountain we need to drink at has come.
But there is a shadow over this story as well. And it is found in the words exchanged with his mother.
Transformation comes at a cost "My hour has not yet come."
In this Gospel Jesus' hour is his death and resurrection. There are forebodings in John 1 but that is all.
But the Gospel is heading inexorably in that direction. The new creation of life, the transformation that Jesus offers will come at a cost. Light must pass through darkness. Life must pass through death. Trust and hope must yield to violence. Only then can darkness and death and violence be victorious on their terms and destroyed on God's.
Only then does the power of the new creation manifest itself. God raises Jesus from the dead. Water is transformed into wine. Life and beauty are set free.
A story of celebration
Looking at this story after all these years what about us? How can it be epiphany to us?
This story reminds us that when Jesus is present new dimensions of reality open to us. That is what transformation is; seeing and exploring and living the new dimensions of faith and hope and love that become open to us in Jesus.
These realities will be different for each of us. As disciples we learn to follow his mother's advice to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." As odd or as absurd as that may be at times it is the pathway to transformation.
The same applies to the church. That is why we read 1Cor. 12.1-11 today. The Spirit mediates this new reality to us. We become the Body of Christ as a community. We mediate the transformations of Christ to the world.
That is our life together. And in the modern world we need to learn this more and more. We are not a moribund religious community but, in our life together, a mediator of water into wine.
It is only when we learn once again to be such a body that we can seriously offer clues to justice and peace and truthfulness to the world in which we live. It is only our experience of living the transformations that give us the clues for life in the world. Remember, water into wine is the symbol of transformation towards life that defeats death, darkness and violence.
The extravagance of Jesus' act, the superabundance of wine, points us to the unlimited gifts and grace that Jesus makes available to each of us. We are invited today in the Eucharist to share in the wonder of this miracle, to enter into the joyous celebration made possible by Jesus' gift.
We are invited to see what the disciples see, that in the abundance and graciousness of Jesus' gift, we catch a glimpse of the character of God: always pushing towards the creation of life.
We witness to the ancient Christian community confession that "from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."